FASHION / The pleasures and perils of a French country garden

OFFICIALLY, it was a wedding reception. To the invited guests wandering the grounds of the Chateau de Courances, an hour's drive from Paris, a couple of weeks ago, it felt more like The Draughtsman's Contract (or Last Year in Marienbad if you were past 40). Certainly the party to celebrate the marriage of Valentine de Ganay, the youngest daughter of the house, and her husband, the artist Markus Hansen, was an event. An international band of artists was invited to install or perform their work and over 400 guests strolled the grounds. The party (christened 'A Charadezade') began at four in the afternoon and went on until five the next morning.

Five years ago Valentine de Ganay organised a similar happening in the grounds of the chateau, and has wanted to stage another ever since. 'This is a great place for people to express themselves in a different environment. I hate those kind of arty ghettos. And people don't go to galleries and museums so much anymore. People are bored by those places. Therefore it is great to ask artists to do their work in a place completely off the wall like Courances. My only rule was that each artist should do something he or she couldn't do elsewhere. They chose their place. Then we discussed the conception of the pieces together.'

Over 20 artists participated. Australians, Americans, Britons and, of course, Parisians. The prime movers included shoemaker Christian Louboutin, designer Mattia Bonnetti, artist Rachid Koraichi, landscape artist Pascal Cribier, American conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, and sculptress Muriel Pulitzer. Wooden rabbits clustered around the Delphic columns. Margolaine Degremont's abstract mobiles lolled on the lily pond, the rainbow-spewing prisms along the ornamental waterways were installed by David Boeno, and Liz Stirling created a crinoline swing. As the night wore on there was a shadow theatre in the Japanese garden.

The guests came mostly from the worlds of art and fashion and dressed accordingly. Breaking with tradition, they were actually encouraged to outdo the bride: Agathe de Ganay, the bride's cousin, went for a cheeky pink Coppelia look; Suzanne Aichinger, who models for Christian Lacroix, chose a mixture of Indian and North African prints; the hostess wore John Galliano topped off with a ramshackle Marie Antoinette wig; but most eyecatching of all was the line of statues, dressed in a crinolines by the Melbourne designer Martin Grant, which swept away from the house down towards the piece de resistance, Hercules in a hooped-skirt. He even lit up at night.

Towards midnight, the proceedings moved indoors to a drawing-room finale - Don Baretto's Cuban combo. Valentine had insisted on her guests taking perfunctory samba lessons in advance, and by 2am the room was filled with wild, swaying dancers. After the party was over, the chateau reverted to its more dignified role: though it is still home to the de Ganay family, it is also open to the public, who tour the grounds bearing camcorders, shepherded along by a respectful villager.

(Photographs omitted)

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